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DragonSaga Game Review
MMOs mix with side-scrolling brawlers in this fun and friendly fantasy
By Thomas Zoth
January 21, 2011
MMOs mix with side-scrolling brawlers in this fun and friendly fantasy.
What They Say:
Since the close of the Dragon War, dragons and humans lived in peace on separate worlds - humans on their homeland, and dragons exiled to the depths of the Aether. It was not to last. Consumed with the desire for revenge, the Dark Dragon Elga led a revolt that brought the death of the Dragon Lord and an invasion of the human world.
One thousand years have passed since the Five Heroes of legend defeated Elga in battle, and imprisoned him in the labyrinth prison of the Shadow Cabinet. Now an unlikely agent threatens to release the Dark Dragon, spreading evil's corruption across the land. And as before, heroes must rise to beat back the darkness.
In a world where Dragons road the land and sky, there exists a civilization with extraordinary magical powers. This world, the world of Dragon Saga, will take new adventurers into the discovery of its riches and traditions. Dragon Saga compliments the hyper quick game play with visually beautiful settings.
DragonSaga is a mix between a 3D and what's usually referred to as a 2 1/2 D side-scrolling brawler. Your character, other characters, and monsters are anime-styled characters in a fully polygonal world. While there is depth to most levels, it's somewhat limited to moving back and forth within the foreground. There are occasionally jump pads and teleporters that can move you from area to area. The game has a fixed side-scrolling camera that will take you around corners, and up and down hilly or mountainous regions. It's a nice mix that allows you to experience a more expansive world while still using basic brawler controls. The game has a fun, goofy fantasy theme, as opposed to a more serious, Tolkien-style take on the material.
Characters have bright, friendly faces, enemies are slightly goofy looking, and colors are bright and varied. In motion, it's a fun mix of stylish and silly. Characters' special attacks are a mix of anime and Warner Brothers cartoons: Knights will pull out giant hammers to bash enemies over the head, and archers will eventually gain the ability to use machine guns and rocket launchers. An early quest has you retrieving toilet plungers to assist with a sewage crisis. Said plungers can be found by defeating Plunger Raccoons, which wear the plungers on their heads. If you can imagine a party of four heroes attacking a giant mob of 20 or so plunger raccoons, smashing them up into the air with a mallet and shooting them down with a machine gun, you've got a good idea of Dragon Saga's aesthetic. Little touches, such as raccoons being launched toward the "camera" and cracking the lens, or sheep being sheared by swordsmen in mid-air, gives the atmosphere a funny and frantic tone, entirely appropriate for the gameplay.
Sound and Music
Sound and music are about standard for a JRPG. The music is faux-orchestral, with tracks being either welcoming or menacing depending on whether you're in a town or dungeon. There are no vocals. You'll hear the growls, howls, and baas of enemies, sounds of swords slashing through the air, and the pings and chimes of leveling up or being contacted by friends.
Translation is easily the weakest aspect of DragonSaga. The translation appears to mostly be done by non-English speakers. The more crucial the in-game text, the more accurate the translation, but character dialogue and flavor text is often confused and awkward. This wasn't too bothersome, as I rarely read the quest dialogue in MMOs. The story for Dragon Saga is a goofy spin on the standard JRPG formula, so players aren't missing out on meaningful nuance. Text on how to complete a mission is clear, and it's always easy to know where to go, or what you need to do. The translation never impeded my ability to play the game, but translation quality does vary, and it could definitely use more polish in the flavor text.
MMOs are notoriously difficult to review, since the experience has no concrete "beginning" and "end" or a single narrative all players will follow. To give as full an accounting of Dragon Saga as I can, I'll briefly describe my experience with the game, and then break down the game in terms of standard MMO elements.
I played Dragon Saga for over 30 hours, primarily with a Warrior. With the warrior, I made it to level 20, which opened up PvP mode, the ability to create guilds, and the first branch in class advancement. Therefore, I'm unfortunately unable to speak to end-game content. However, I believe I can communicate the experience of the first 30 or so hours of game time, and if Dragon Saga appeals to you, I expect you will find investing additional time in the game to be a rewarding experience.
I must say that overall, I enjoyed my experience with Dragon Saga. It follows the standard MMO path of completing quests, grinding, leveling up, visiting instanced dungeons, gaining abilities in an ability tree, and so on. I think what made the experience rewarding is that Dragon Saga is less formal and structured than other MMOs I played. In keeping with the brawler-based combat, battles are fast and fierce. Areas in the world are compact, so there's not a lot of walking around. Instanced dungeons, where the brawler flavor is strongest (even with a Go -> arrow once all enemies have been cleared) can be very brief, taking 10 to 15 minutes per "stage". It doesn't feel like a job or a chore to clear out, and after completing one, I found myself staying up late into the night, thinking "I'll just do one more dungeon run," rather than needing to take a break after a three-or-four hour crawl. It makes Dragon Saga much more approachable for casual gamers, or gamers wanting a social game that's not a massive time sink.
That said, if you're looking for an epic, complex, involved MMORPG experience, you won't find it here. Combat is fun and fast, with more focus on button mashing than cleverly executed strategy. As you level up, you'll gain new abilities, buffs, and spells, but most abilities deal with dealing damage in flashy and funny ways. The game also comes with macros, allowing you to chain special moves, so that you can launch enemies into the air, kick them back up, and then knock them back to earth with a whirlwind slash. As you build up combos, you gain experience multipliers, so dealing as much damage as possible as quickly as you can allows you to level up faster. Things will often get chaotic, sometimes with 30 enemies onscreen, being smashed and tossed about with lightning blasts and fireworks. When you complete a dungeon, based upon how many enemies you've defeated, you're faced with a slot machine that will give you loot. The better brawler you are, the better kinds of items you'll receive.
Currently, Dragon Saga is free to play, but there are bonus items you can receive by purchasing points from the item mall. From my experience, these items made the game easier to play for those who paid, but not in a way that creates two tiers of players. For instance, some items allow you to have more macros, more item storage, or unique pets. It's more convenient for those who pay (which is fair, considering they keep the lights on), but it's not unfair to people wanting to try the game out or those unwilling to invest.
I'll now briefly touch MMO elements Dragon Saga has and doesn't have:
What Dragon Saga Has:
Classes With Branching Paths and Ability Trees - On starting out, you can create a character in one of four classes: Warrior, Magician, Archer, and Thief. As expected, the warrior is strong and resilient with hand to hand combat, while the Magician has ranged attacks and healing spells but is physically weak. The Archer has very strong ranged attacks, but is weak at short range, and the Thief is skilled with back attacks and sneak attacks. Each class breaks off into 2 career paths at level 20. Once a path is chosen, however, further development is set. At level 20, a warrior can choose to become a Knight, which will develop into a Paladin and then a Dragoon, or he can choose to be a Gladiator, which will develop into a Myrmidon and then an Overlord. Each class has a different skill tree. At each level, you get a certain number of skill points that can be spent to learn new moves, spells, or buffs, allowing you to customize your character. Dragon Saga comes with 4 character slots per account, so you can try a basic variety of different classes and skills.
Weapon and Armor Modification -Dragon Saga has two methods of weapon and equipment modification: enchanting and soulcrafting. Enchanting involves the use of magic powder, a frequent item drop. You can give the enchantment powder to a blacksmith in a town, and, for a fee, he'll apply the powder to your equipment to boost a specific stat, such as attack or defense power. Soulcrafting is more complicated. Items have certain levels of rarity, from common to artifact. Rarer, more powerful weapons have more soul energy. You can increase the soul level of a weapon by breaking down older weapons into souls, which can then be spent to upgrade newer weapons. As the soul level of an item increases, all of its stats will improve. Souls can also be used to remove "seals" on some items drops, which prevent them from being used, or to remove curses on items. When you come across equipment you can't use, you'll need to decide whether you want to sell the loot for money, or break them down for souls.
PVP - PvP opens for characters at level 20, with basic matches between groups of players for fun. At higher levels, ranking and prizes are awarded for skilled players. There's a selection of maps, options to set handicaps, and item use can be enabled or disabled. You can also set maximum and minimum levels for a match to keep battles fair. All PvP combat appears to be combat-oriented, and no missions or games are available.
Guilds, Parties and Couples - You can only found a guild at level 20, but you can join a guild at any time. At higher levels, you can take on special guild quests, allowing you to level up your guild, giving your guild special skills and the ability to invite more players to join. Parties can have up to 4 players, and can be set up by inviting characters as you come across them, or by setting up a party using the automated system in your specific area. It pays to party with the same people, because you gain friend points as you complete quests with people you've "friended". These friend points can be traded for item. A clever innovation is the "couple" grouping, which makes two players a loving couple, giving them certain bonuses and special moves, and the ability to emote kisses. Unfortunately, this is currently limited to opposite-sex pairings only.
Markets - There's no centralized auction house in Dragon Saga - each player sets up his or her own "store" which can be accessed at any time from the Market button. A basic store is free, but is only good while the player is online, and it appears at the very bottom of the list. To get your store listed higher on the market list, you need to pay for a superior shop or premium shop license. The better shop license you have, the more items you can sell, and your shop will stay open while you're offline. Because it takes money to sell items, it prevents auction-house dumping, which I assume helps to stop inflation. Only the rarest items are really worth going to the trouble to sell in the market, so there's no need for resource mining.
Achievements - Dragon Saga has a variety of achievements that can be gained for tasks both basic (complete 10 quests) or advanced (beat a boss without being hurt). On gaining an achievement, you receive a medal, which, when worn, will confer both a "title" to your avatar that other players can see, and a stat bonus. It's a cool idea, and there are plenty of achievements to aim for.
Pets and Housing- At level 20, you can start a quest to get a pet. The pet will need to be fed and taken care of, but confers certain bonuses if you keep it healthy. Also announced, but unfinished at the time of review, is the ability to purchase housing in the towns and villages. Certain properties appear available in-game, but the ability to buy them hasn't yet been incorporated. It's a safe bet that these homes can be decorated with items you gain in your travels, and by items you can purchase with money from the item mall.
What Dragon Saga Does Not Have:
Races and an Open World - All player characters in Dragon Saga are currently human. You can pick sex, hairstyle, and face, but you have to stay with a humanoid. All player characters also start in the same area, and there's no selection of starting town or tribe. This works to tell Dragon Saga's story, but it also means the game starts out with a linear quest path. As you advance, paths open up, and there are different places to travel and different dungeons to conquer, but the common starting area makes the world feel less vital and alive.
A Robust Crafting System - At this time, player characters can only cook using recipes found throughout the world: There's no blacksmithing, woodworking, alchemy or macrame. This means there's no need for resource farming, but it also means less character customization is available.
Raids or Massively Multiplayer Dungeons - Because the game is a brawler with fast and frantic action, parties are capped at 4 players. Anything larger or more complicated would be needlessly chaotic. This means, however, there are no massively multiplayer dungeons.
Dragon Saga is a light and fun MMORPG slash brawler that can be recommended for old-school fans, more casual MMO fans, and younger players. It takes place in a bright and friendly fantasy world and features fast and frantic side-scrolling combat. It's best suited to many short sessions rather than long, involved campaigns, although you may find yourself thinking you'll play "just one more dungeon." The translation needs more work and polish, but quests and instructions are clear enough to be easily understood. I had a lot of fun with my initial 30+ hours, and I'm actually looking forward to playing more on my own time.
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